Has your doctor been bugging you to make a change in your diet to help keep your glycemic index levels in check?
Well here’s the good news: you don’t have to sacrifice the happiness you find in food in order to stay healthy!
It’s not such a chore to follow a low glycemic diet when it still allows you so much good food, especially when it also provides so many great benefits to your health. This is particularly true for diabetic patients.
So let’s get right down to it – what exactly is a low glycemic diet, how do you follow one, and what can you gain from it?
What is a Low Glycemic Diet?
In a low glycemic diet, you select your food based on how they will affect your blood sugar levels.
It works off of the glycemic index – a system that assigns numbers to carbohydrate-containing foods according to how much each food increases your blood sugar. It’s a tool for guiding food choice the same way carb counting or calorie counting is.
Glycemic index diets don’t specify certain portion sizes, amount of carbs, amount of calories, or amount of fat – the ultimate goal isn’t always weight loss (although weight loss or weight maintenance may follow).
There are other diets, even popular commercial ones, that follow the principles of a low glycemic index diet – the Zone Diet, Sugar Busters, and the Slow-Carb Diet are a few.
To follow a low glycemic diet, you need to pay attention to the glycemic index numbers of the foods you eat.
Glycemic index numbers fall into one of three categories – high, medium, and low. The numbers are based on how much a food item will raise your blood glucose levels compared to how much pure glucose raises blood glucose. The lower the number, the better.
Glycemic index numbers 1 to 55 are considered to fall into a Low GI, 56 to 69 is a Medium GI, and 70 or higher is a High GI.
Some factors that affect the GI of food are the type of sugar that’s in the food, the structure of the starch in the carb, how refined the carb is, the food’s nutrient composition, the preparation and cooking technique the food goes through, and the food’s ripeness.
The glycemic index can’t tell you everything about the food you're eating, though (it doesn’t tell you the likely serving size or any other nutritional information, for example).
The similar glycemic load (GL) value helps with that problem. The GL is a numerical value that tells you the change in blood glucose levels you’ll experience when you eat a typical serving of that food.
A Low GL lands between 1 and 10, a Medium GL is between 11 and 19, and a High GL is the number 20 or over. It’s recommended to keep your total daily GL under 100.
The GI value is still the most important number to look at when following a low glycemic diet, however.
Examples of Low GI foods include green veggies, most fruits, raw carrots, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, and bran breakfast cereals – so go for those!
Medium GI foods include sweet corn, bananas, raw pineapple, raisins, oat breakfast cereals, and multigrain oat bran, or rye bread. Examples of High GI foods are white rice, white bread, and potatoes.
Lower GI foods are considered “slow carbs” because they’re digested and absorbed relatively slowly compared to the “fast carbs” of Higher GI foods that are digested and absorbed quickly.
Diet Doesn’t Have to be a Dirty Word
You might be wondering what the benefits are to following a low glycemic diet. Here are the top 4:
1. Improve Your Blood Glucose Control
Blood glucose control is the most important beneficial factor for diabetic patients following a low glycemic diet.
Although the total amount of carbs in food is generally a stronger predictor of blood glucose response than the GI number, GI still plays a role in managing your blood sugar. Counting the number of carbohydrates you consume is still the best tool for managing your blood glucose, however.
Clinical studies have shown the low glycemic diet to help with blood glucose levels, although it’s speculated that the positive effects might also be due to how the prescribed diets also happen to be low in calories and high in fiber, both factors that are already known to help blood sugar levels.
2. Want to Lose Some Weight?
A low glycemic diet can actually help with weight loss too.
Studies show that diets with a high GL from eating refined grains, starches, and sugars were associated with more weight gain. Studies also suggest that low GI diets may promote weight loss and help to maintain that weight loss.
However, if weight loss is your main goal, you’re better off choosing a different diet instead of a low glycemic diet. GI diets can be a bit more unreliable when it comes to weight loss compared to diets that are focused solely on weight loss.
Sometimes, the individual GI values of the same foods can have a large range of variability, which makes food choice difficult when the GI value of the same food item doesn’t stay consistent.
3. Help Lower Your Cholesterol Levels
Low glycemic diets have shown fairly consistent evidence that they can help to lower your total cholesterol levels as well as your “bad” cholesterol levels (low-density lipoproteins). This is especially true when the low GI diet is combined with an increase in your consumption of dietary fiber.
Low and Medium GI foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains are generally your best bet as fiber sources.
4. Need to Get Your Appetite Under Control?
The idea behind a low glycemic diet helping with appetite control is that high GI food causes a rapid increase in blood sugar, followed by a rapid insulin response, and subsequent rapid return to feeling hungry again. Vice versa, low GI foods would result in delayed feelings of hunger.
The appetite control provided by a low GI diet would also then help you to choose to eat less and better manage your weight in the long term.
Just remember the reasons you started your diet in the first place – you’re putting yourself on this diet to take care of yourself and keep your health in check, so keep it up.
Eating Well on a Low Glycemic Diet
Need to hold yourself to a low glycemic diet to keep your body alive and healthy?
No worries, there are still plenty of food options for you to keep your belly as happy as your blood sugar levels.
Just remember the following tips to stay on track:
- 1Aim to eat a lot of non-starchy beans, veggies, and fruits like apples, pears, peaches, and berries. You can also go for tropical fruits like bananas, mangoes, and papayas.
- 2Avoid refined grains. You want to eat grains in the least-processed state possible. Go for “unbroken” grains like in whole-kernel bread, brown rice, whole barley, millet, and wheat berries. Next best is eating grains that are traditionally processed like stone-ground bread, steel-cut oats, natural granola, or muesli breakfast cereals.
- 3Limit your consumption of white potatoes and refined-grain products, like white breads and white pasta.
- 4Limit your consumption of concentrated sweets to occasional treats. This includes high-calorie foods even if they have a low glycemic index, like ice cream. Don’t drink more than one-half cup of fruit juice a day and take out sugar-sweetened drinks from your diet altogether.
- 5Do your best to eat healthy proteins like beans, fish, and skinless chicken at most meals.
- 6Choose foods that contain healthful fats like olive oil, nuts (like almonds, walnuts, and pecans), and avocados in moderate amounts. Limit your saturated fats from dairy and other animal products. Take out trans fats (partially hydrogenated fats) from your diet completely (typically found in fast food and packaged food).
- 7Don’t skip breakfast. Eat three meals a day along with one or two snacks.
- 8Eat slowly and stop eating once you’re full.
Stay healthy and good luck following your low glycemic diet!